If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see that over the weekend I was chatting about the ‘birthday challenge’. I’m not sure how this started but it’s been going on since the boys were really small. In our family, whenever it’s anyone’s birthday, they get to choose the birthday cake/dessert of their dreams – anything at all – and I promise to cook it for them. When the boys were small, they were always begging for novelty cakes way beyond my level of expertise: Buzz Lightyear and Power Rangers, then when they turned into little pre-teen smart-arses, it was always something really, really complicated – they would research for hours and come back with requests for things they thought were really exotic (my favourite was Sam’s request for a black forest gateau – I’m not even sure he knew what it was). Now, though, it’s all about requesting a big, yummy dessert and that suits me just fine. Sam’s birthday is on Tuesday, and I promised I’d do the birthday challenge last weekend as I’m away again next week (exploring Kissimmee, St Pete and Clearwater – I can’t wait). I was pretty chuffed when his request was for lemon meringue pie too – one of my favourites.
The trouble with a lemon meringue pie recipe is that it looks really long and tedious, but basically there are three simple steps: the base (if you’re not a pastry person, just use a biscuit crust like you would for a cheesecake: 300g of your favourite biscuit, smashed up then mixed with 100g melted butter and pressed into the tin). There there’s the lemon curd which is a cinch to make – or you can just buy a jar – and finally the meringue, which is just whisking eggs in the food mixer. Easy peasy. This time, I’ve used a pie crust that you just press into the tin with your fingers: I love the way it puffs up a bit, it tastes delicious, plus it saves all that faffing around with a rolling pin.
For the easy biscuit pie crust:
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
1 free range egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Weigh out the flour, baking powder and caster sugar. Mix them around to combine, then chop the cold butter into cubes and add them into the bowl.
Now lightly just rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (or actually you can do this bit in the food mixer too).
Next up, mix the egg and vanilla together and add them to the breadcrumby mixture. Bring it together into a soft dough. Press the dough into a tart tin (much easier if it’s the loose-bottomed variety), pressing it up the edges of the tin. I find it easier to dip my knuckles in flour and press them into the dough.
Scrunch up some baking paper then unscrunch and lay it over the pastry base. Gently fill with baking beans or old dried peas or whatever you use. Blind bake at 180 degrees C/gas 4 for about 15 minutes. Remove the beans – it will still be quite soft in the middle – and give it another 5 minutes just on its own in the oven, then allow to cool.
For the lemon curd:
2 lemons, zested and juiced (or about 6 tablespoons of sharp, fresh juice)
100g salted butter
150g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
Take a saucepan and add in the juice, zest, butter and caster sugar. Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined (if you’re being restauranty here, you can sift the egg to remove any lumps of white).
Now, take the warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.
Pour it all back into the saucepan and keep whisking and gently simmering until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. If it’s really not going to thicken, you can help it along by popping in another egg yolk and whisking again until it does. Remember it will continue to thicken as it cools, so if you’re unsure, take a teaspoonful of the mixture out and pop it onto a cold plate to see if it sets.
Once cool, spoon onto the base. It’s best to let this bit get really cool before making the meringue, as it’s difficult to dollop meringue onto the lemon curd if it’s not set.
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
225g caster sugar (I use golden caster, but use normal if you want it to be really white)
Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it
Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, add a pinch of cream of tartar (this will give the eggs more volume) then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy. Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty. Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.
Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.
When it comes out of the oven it will be ever so slightly darker in colour, crisp on the top and hopefully still soft and tender on the inside. This one will feed a crowd (well, it might in any other household) and will keep for a few days in the fridge too. Happy birthday, Sam. Love you loads xx
Check out that lovely biscuit base too….